Mighty Mo. Mister Mom. The Big Muddy.
You've heard all of those nicknames for momentum before.
On the 1st of June, the Detroit Tigers -- everyone's preseason favorites in the American League Central -- got blown out by the Yankees and fell six games behind the first-place Chicago White Sox. Four weeks later, the Tigers were still five games behind the White Sox.
Then the Tigers went on a tear, winning 14 of their next 18 games. Suddenly, they were in first place. Suddenly, all those preseason predictions made an awful lot of sense. Now that the Tigers were finally in first place, they might just hit the autopilot and cruise all the way home to an easy division title. By golly, they had momentum.
Except there's no such thing as momentum in baseball. The Tigers spent four days in first place. They fell out of first place on the 25th of July, and they've been fighting to get back there ever since. They've gotten close, in fact they might actually have been tied for first place for an hour or two, somewhere. But five weeks later, the Tigers still haven't finished another day in first place.
The 2nd of September might finally be the glorious day. Despite coming off a sweep by the Royals, the Tigers have a shot at finishing this weekend in first place. Well, tied for first place. They're three games behind the White Sox. They're hosting the White Sox in a three-game series. Sweep the Sox, and boom they're tied.
Sweeping is hard, though. Realistically, the Tigers should be happy with two out of three. That would cut the deficit to just two games, which is significant but hardly worrisome. Lose two of three, though? Falling four off the pace in early September is a problem. And if the Tigers somehow get swept -- again, that's unlikely -- then things look real bad for them. Because you rarely make up six-game deficits against good teams in four weeks. Especially against a good team that a) plays 17 of its last 29 games at home, and b) plays 18 of its last 29 games against the Royals, Twins, and Indians.
The Tigers have even more games (19) against the division's weak sisters. But 16 of their last 29 games are on the road. Which puts them at a small but decided disadvantage.
Saturday's game features ex-Twin Francisco Liriano against Max Scherzer. Since joining the White Sox, Liriano's pitched essentially the same as he did with the Twins, which is to say he's been perfectly decent but hardly exciting at all. Maxwell Meanwhile Scherzer has been quite exciting, though! Scherzer leads the major leagues with 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings. Scherzer's also given up 22 home runs. The White Sox rank second in the league in home runs. So that could be exciting, also.
But what's supposed to most exciting comes Sunday night on ESPN, when Cy Young candidates Chris Sale and Justin Verlander are supposed to face off. I know it's a holiday and everybody's supposed to be outside grilling, or shooting off bottle rockets to celebrate the Wobblies or whatever, but it seems like if you're going to watch any television or listen to any radio or make sweet love to your smart telephone at some point this weekend, that's the time.